We’re inclined to immediately look up ‘Best Things To Do’ when researching a new country, city, or town that we’re visiting soon. As per standard travel protocol, jamming in the top attractions and activities in the few days and/or short weeks that we have whilst vacationing in a foreign country is, well, just what we do.
These activities usually consist of what past visitors generally conclude as a ‘must’ if you’re just visiting once, however, have you ever stopped to consider what locals consider as a must-do? Or how they research what to do in a country that they’ve lived their whole lives?
For those visiting Japan and thus Tokyo (because who visits this wonderful, culturally-rich concrete jungle country without at least one stopover in its most popular city?), you’ll eventually stop thing: where do these residents go to unwind? Where to people who live in one of the world’s busiest, most densely populated cities go to ‘escape’? We know that Japanese summers are filled with gorgeous hikes, luscious greenery, maximum sunlight and uninterrupted mountainous views, so where do they actually go for this?
The answer? Karuizawa.
Located just an hour away from Tokyo by Shinkansen, Karuizawa is a resort town located in the mountains of Nagano where the Japanese, especially Tokyoites, love to escape during the warmer seasons. The waterfalls are breathtaking, the hiking trails are long, the forests are lush, and there’s plenty to see and do that will both invigorate and relax you, however you choose to vacation.
How To Get To Karuizawa from Tokyo?
Getting to Karuizawa is an absolute breeze. From Tokyo, you just need to catch one train: the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. The one-way journey takes between 60-70 minutes, and costs 5,500yen. If you have a JR Pass, it is fully covered.
Tip: If you’re looking to do a round-trip from Tokyo and you don’t have the JR Pass, getting the JR Tokyo Wide Pass will cover your round trip as well as provide you with unlimited travel on JR lines throughout the Kanto region as well as parts of Nagano, Niigata, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka. The pass costs 10,180 yen, and can be purchased at Narita Airport, Haneda Airport, and major Tokyo train stations such as Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno, and Yokohama Station.
Where To Stay in Karuizawa?
Hotel in Karuizawa- The Prince Karuizawa
When you’re imagining a stay in Karuizawa, The Prince Karuizawa is exactly what you’re imagining. Surrounded by natural forests and lakes, with large-size guest rooms that take advantage of the views with enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, a stay here would be like something out of a Japanese fairy-tale.
The hotel boasts a guest-access only public onsen bath, open-air baths, and even a steam sauna facility. Bike rental services and a fitness centre is also available onsite.
Guest Tips: The location is outstanding, offering a much-needed respite from the big city. However, there is a free shuttle bus service to and from the station that just makes the entire stay all the more convenient. Don’t think you’ll run out of activities to do, as you’re right on a golf course, there are awesome bike tracks to make use of, and it’s also located next to a big shopping outlet if you want to spend some money.
Book It Now: The Prince Karuizawa
Hotel in Karuizawa – Kyukaruizawa Kikyo, Curio Collection by Hilton
This 5-star hotel is the absolute epitome of luxury and class, and being a child of the world-class brand Hilton, you can expect no less than celebrity-class treatment here. Kyukaruizawa Kikyo is located right near the Ginza Dori shopping strip, one of the most popular attractions in the area.
It offers spacious guest rooms that have been superbly furnished, maintained and kept to the highest degree of comfort, cleanliness and quality. It’s one of those hotels where, once you step foot in, you’ll never want to step foot out – it’ll be like leaving paradise.
Guest Tips: The location is fantastic if you’re the type to like to explore local eateries as it’s within walking distance to many restaurants in the area. The surrounding walking paths around the hotel are just magnificent, great way to breath in the refreshing air and unwind.
Book It Now: Kyukaruizawa Kikyo, Curio Collection by Hilton
The 6 Best Things To Do In Karuizawa, Japan
- Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Area
- Visit Shiraito Falls
- Stroll Along Old Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street
- Kumoba-ike Pond
- Explore Harunire Terrace
- Usui Pass Observation Deck
1. Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Area
The very hotel that we spoke about earlier in this article is actually a premiere destination in winter for snow enthusiasts. During Japan’s epic snow season, hundreds of people pour into Karuizawa, specifically to stay at the Prince Hotel. Its easy location from Tokyo, contemporary facilities such as their state-of-the-art chairlifts, variety of runs and additional activities makes it an easy choice for those looking for a convenient side trip to the snow. Its season lasts just a tad longer, generally finishing up at the end of March, so if you’re looking to experience Japan’s famous snow in spring, you know where to go!
- Address: 1016 Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
- Access: Take the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Karuizawa.
- Hours: 8:30am – 4:30pm
- Price: up to 5,700 yen for a lift pass
- Website: https://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/karuizawa/
If you are a ski lover, feel free to also read this article: Where To Ski In Japan.
2. Visit Shiraito Falls
Shiraito Falls, located in the northern end of Karuizawa, is a spectacular spot to admire one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Shiraito translates to ‘the waterfall of white threads’, and is a nod to the unique flow of water of the waterfall which produces a clear white curtain as the water falls from the top to bottom.
It’s stunning all year round, but particularly during the warmer months, when luscious greenery surrounds the falls. In summer and winter, the falls are actually illuminated at night, making it a spectacular sight to visit.
- Address: Japan, 〒389-0111 Nagano, Kitasaku District, Karuizawa, Nagakura
- Access: From Karuizawa Station, take the Kusakaru Kotsu bus from Karuizawa Station to the Shiraito Waterfall. It will take 25-minutes, cost 710 yen, and you should expect them to come 1-2 times an hour. The waterfall is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop.
3. Stroll Along Old Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street
Also known as Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street, this adorable strip of shops is one of the most historic in the region. Encompassing small independent stores who have been in the family for generations, a multitude of delicious restaurants to dine at, and lots of souvenir stores which sell local arts and crafts, you’ll find yourself pleasantly enjoying a stroll along this streets and hours will pass before you realise it. Make sure you look out for and try some local jam, it’s a specialty!
- Address: 541 Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
- Access: It is a 20-minute walk from Karuizawa station.
4. Kumoba-ike Pond
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We mentioned earlier that locals love to come here to unwind, and what better way to unwind than to get in touch with nature through long, leisurely walks? One of the most popular walks is the trail located around Kumoba-ike Pond.
It is designed as more of a promenade surrounding the water, and is more of an aesthetic walk rather than a strenuous hike. In autumn, the surrounding trees become bright red and yellow, creating quite a romantic ambience.
- Address: Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0103, Japan
- Access: From Karuizawa Station, a taxi ride will take approximately 4-minutes.
5. Explore Harunire Terrace
In the middle of the forest sits Harunire Terrace, a stunning wooden complex comprising of a timber deck hosting a number of modern facilities. In amongst the 15 or so stores to discover, there’s a gallery, restaurants, small boutique shops, and even a Thai-style massage place. During the winter season, the entire terrace becomes illuminated after dark and it just becomes magical! There’s also an ice rink that is family-friendly.
- Address: 2148 Nagakura, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0111, Japan
- Access: From Karuizawa Station, take the Seibu Kanko Bus towards Kusatsu-onsen. Alight at Hoshino-onsen Tombo-no-yu, and it will take 1-minute to walk to Harunire Terrace.
- Hours: 11:00am – 10:00pm
6. Usui Pass Observation Deck
A trip out to a mountainous region in Japan would not be complete without an epic observation point to take all the views in. For Karuizawa, you have the Usui Observation Deck. Located near the border of Gunma and Nagano Prefectures, this observation platform offers visitors the chance to take in views of mountain ranges far into the distance of both prefectures.
The best time to take in the views would be in autumn, when the surrounding treetops are covered in momiji and you’re greeted with an expanse of burnt orange and red across the mountains. It makes for a great few hours of exploration, to breathe in the fresh mountain air, unwind, and take in the natural beauty of Japan.
- Address: Japan, 〒389-0102 Nagano, Kitasaku District, Karuizawa, Unnamed Road
- Access: From Karuizawa Station, you can catch a taxi up, which will cost around 2,000 yen and take 10-minutes. Otherwise, you can hike the relatively leisurely easy walk up from Karuizawa Ginza shopping street, which will take around 30-40 minutes.
Karuizawa should have piqued your interest from the moment we said ‘locals’. It’s quite off the grid of major tourist paths around Japan, although we’re just not sure this place will stay quiet for much longer – it’s an absolute bombshell of a place to visit. The smaller, quieter crowds, an abundance of activities to get in touch with nature, and general location being in amongst the mountains makes it a no-brainer if you enjoy immersing yourself deep into culture.
For more destinations around Tokyo, feel free to read this article: Weekend Getaways From Tokyo.